Uproar in Northern Ireland court over teen's drug charge sentence
The family of a Co Armagh schoolgirl who died from an ecstasy overdose reacted furiously in court as a teenager charged following her death was given community service.
Such was the outburst, the judge ordered police to intervene after she felt a threat had been issued.
Laura Porter (19) of Maevemacullen Road, Tandragee, admitted possessing class A drug MDMA (ecstasy) on May 17 last year.
This was "tenuously" linked to the death of Caitlin White (15), who was found unresponsive in woodland in Corcrain, Portadown - an area young people congregated to abuse substances.
Death was caused by an overdose and tests revealed she had taken a blue and yellow 'Minion' tablet, which resembled the cartoon characters.
Investigations led to Porter's arrest, and while it was accepted she did not offer the drugs directly nor assist in their consumption, she did have possession of one Minion.
Craigavon Magistrates Court heard that an analysis of Porter's phone revealed a message reading: "If anyone wants to buy a Minion I have one only and I want rid of it."
Defence counsel said: "This was a tragic set of circumstances which has impacted significantly on my client, but she accepts this does not compare to the suffering of the deceased's family."
He said Porter has experienced severe psychological difficulties since the incident, has become very withdrawn and no longer socialises - to which one of Caitlin's relatives could be heard saying: "Good."
The defence said at the time Porter had become embroiled in a poor peer group and started abusing alcohol, moving to cannabis, then harder drugs.
Describing the link to Caitlin's death as "tenuous", the defence added: "My client is a fragile, delicate girl. It is rare to have a young girl as a client who has no previous record and comes from a good family."
District Judge Bernie Kelly said Porter had first appeared in court on May 30, pleaded guilty at once, affording full credit for her swift response.
Stressing no correlation between the defendant and the death of Caitlin, the judge said if that had been the case, different charges would have applied.
Imposing a sentence of 120 hours community service, Judge Kelly told Porter: "I strongly advise you to learn from this unfortunate and tragic situation. Ensure you never involve yourself again. This was an event of utmost tragedy."
But members of Caitlin's family became agitated, with a man shouting: "Seriously?"
A woman broke down and said: "Is that it? I lost my baby. Is that all she got? There is no justice."
Security staff escorted them from the courtroom as they continued speaking out in anger.
Given the tension, Judge Kelly said Porter, who wept uncontrollably, should wait until Caitlin's family had left, to which a relative responded: "That would be a brilliant idea actually", before storming out.
The judge ordered police to speak with this relative, stating: "I think that was a threat."
Later, a police officer who accompanied Caitlin's family during the hearing told the court she had spoken to them and advised on their conduct.
The judge added: "I accept this is difficult but this young lady (Porter) was never charged in any way with the death."
The officer said she explained this to the family, but Judge Kelly replied: "They are clearly not getting it. The defendant cannot be held responsible for something she is not before the court for."
Porter was required to be escorted by police from court after Caitlin's family left the building.